Dao of the Mobile Web
Last week I was honored to give a keynote at Web Directions Unplugged. Because this was the first time meeting John Allsopp, it seemed like the right time to reread the Dao of Web Design.
I was struck by a couple of things in rereading the article. First, it is amazing how prescient the article is. It is as relevant today as it was eleven years ago.
Second, I realized that while most of the recent commentary on the article focused on the idea of adaptability and flexibility—particularly as they pertain to layout, that for me, the Dao of Web Design article poses a bigger question.
In the article, John writes:
What I sense is a real tension between the web as we know it, and the web as it would be. It’s the tension between an existing medium, the printed page, and its child, the web. And it’s time to really understand the relationship between the parent and the child, and to let the child go its own way in the world.
What I found myself wondering is if mobile, and in particular mobile web, isn’t a new child born of the desktop web that we need to learn to let go of in some way.
It is clear to me that mobile is a new and unique media. Tomi Ahonen makes a compelling argument that mobile is the seventh and largest mass media. He also documents eight unique abilities that set mobile apart.
If we agree that mobile is a new medium, then what John wrote back in 2000 is instructive:
When a new medium borrows from an existing one, some of what it borrows makes sense, but much of the borrowing is thoughtless, “ritual”, and often constrains the new medium. Over time, the new medium develops its own conventions, throwing off existing conventions that don’t make sense.
At dinner with John, we talked about this issue. Neither of us had answers, but he was already ahead of me in asking the questions: if mobile web is a child of the web, what do we need to give up and how are we limiting ourselves?
P.S. I had a fantastic time at Web Directions Unplugged. Thanks to John, Maxine and Rosemary for putting together a wonderful event. Thanks to the attendees and speakers for the great conversations and presentations.